Protecting the Choice to Stay: “Education Savings Accounts” and Legislative Priorities
by David R. Garcia - December 07, 2012
“Education Savings Accounts” (choice vouchers) are the latest iteration of school voucher proposals and are touted by free market advocates as the future of school choice policies and a vehicle for education reform. In Arizona, where the state legislature has passed choice vouchers on two occasions, the policy discussion has been framed as a conflict between parental choice and bureaucratic mandates and the courts have sided in favor of parental choice. More correctly, the public policy discussion should be framed as a matter of competing parental choices; the choice to divert public funds away from public schools and the “constitutionally-supported” choice to send students to public schools. In setting priorities to resolve this conflict in an environment of scarce resources, I argue that the next available public school dollar must go toward meeting the constitutional mandate to fully maintain public schools on behalf of those parents who have chosen for their students to attend them before allowing other parents to divert public funds away from public schools. Alternately, if the legislature wants to hold true to their commitment to provide parents with the option to divert public funds away from public schools, a policy option with some legal precedent, then it must first maintain its public schools on behalf of the parents who have chosen for their students to attend them. This latter solution has the potential side benefit of achieving the education reform that advocates covet - maybe in a properly maintained public school system, there will no longer be anymore failing schools or underserved students.
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